by ANNIE FELDKAMP '16
Christmas has always ruled the winter season. Colorfully lit trees can be found in every living room, foyer, and square. Manger scenes pop up all throughout the country, depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. Not only is Christmas one of the most prominent Christian celebrations, it is a massive commercial affair that rules the industry come December. “Merry Christmas” becomes the ever so familiar phrase, but as greater awareness and respect of other religions and beliefs grow, more and more people are adding “Happy Holidays” to their holiday vocabulary.
According to Christian tradition, Jesus Christ was born on December 25, closing out the 4-week Advent celebration, and beginning the 12-day feast of Christmas. Christians from all over the world come together and attend Mass. Over time this holiday has grown to be marked on calendars and celebrated by a diverse, non-Christian population. Economic activity booms when the bustling season rolls around, lights are strewn across households, and stockings go up by the fireplace. For those who celebrate Christmas, either religiously or secularly, “Merry Christmas” is an appropriate and jovial greeting or farewell. However, according to the Religious Affiliation Landscape Survey by Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life, 78.4% of Americans are Christian, 4.7% are of other religious affiliation, and 16.1% are unaffiliated.
For example, other significant winter holidays include the Jewish celebration Hanukkah and the week-long African observance of Kwanzaa. While greeting someone who does not celebrate Christmas by saying “Merry Christmas” is an honest mistake, “Happy Holidays” enables people of whatever religion to still spread the holiday cheer. Pope Francis stated in the document Evangelii Gaudium, “True openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity, while at the same time being open to understanding those of the other party.”
Some adversaries of this new greeting argue that it generalizes a holiday initially intended for Catholics. However, just as Pope Francis states, one can still use this phrase without completely erasing “Merry Christmas” from her common conversation. When asked about the controversy between the two greetings, Ms. Koehl, World Religions teacher at SUA, says, “If I knew that I were with an interreligious group I would be more likely to say ‘Happy Holidays’ because then it would take into context the different holidays that are being celebrated by different people, but if I am at Saint Ursula, a Catholic Institution, primarily Christian ... I will say ‘Merry Christmas.’”
"Happy Holidays” does not serve as a replacement for “Merry Christmas,” but as a modern, inclusive greeting that can better unify people of all backgrounds and races. This greeting conveys joy and good spirit to more, keeping the winter season jolly as well as recognizing the differences and preferences of others.